June 18, 2023

Dante Di Stefano


Over there, there is a green thing in the way,
under the silver of the moon that isn’t shining
because it is the daytime, and on its many arms,
there are so many thorns you could call it a coat,
a thorn coat, and there is always someone climbing
its trunk and hurting their hands so much so.
A little boy is climbing and a little girl is climbing
and with them the ghosts of their dead grandparents
and their unborn children’s children and a caterpillar
who only knows how to eat and eat, thorn and leaf,
on the way to becoming a butterfly and a brown bear
and a goldfish out of water flopping upward
and a wolf pup and a lion cub and an eagle without
a nest and you and me and every mother and father
and son and daughter who ever was—we are all
climbing and climbing and climbing until our hands
ache and ache and ache and make a cradle of that ache
and hang a lullaby in the air above that cradle
and we are all going up and up and up and it is
painful and strange because we are all also falling
down and down and down, deeper than the deepest
part of the ocean, which is singing to us in the way
a humpback whale does or in the way the waves
sing to the shore and if you listen very closely,
you can hear a great great writer whispering
to the waves in us and the trees in us and the thorns
and all that climbing and all those cut palms
and bleeding fingers. Listen. He is ending his book.
He is ending the great book of his life. He has no
say in this, but he is saying on the last page: fly them.

from Poets Respond
June 18, 2023


Dante Di Stefano: “Cormac McCarthy is one of my favorite novelists. I wrote this thinking about his death this week and the ways in which McCarthy’s books have helped me understand our nation’s romance with brutality. I was also thinking about how I might explain some of this to my small children. I’ve read The Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? a thousand times in the past five years. In Carle’s books the world in all its wonder unfolds. I thought it would be interesting to look at McCarthy’s grim fatalistic view of human nature through the lens of Carle’s imagination. The last two words of the poem are the last two words of my favorite McCarthy novel, Suttree.”

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April 30, 2023

Dante Di Stefano


After all, we are living,
now, in your America,
the air thick with arias
of insults, our neighbors mic’d,
their grievances caroling
out into the howling crowd.
Here, everyone arms themselves
with slurs & secrets & shock-
ing revelations about
lineage & history.
We used to watch your show in
dorm rooms & in living rooms,
waiting for the fuse you lit
to explode. Now, all we do
is follow fuse after fuse;
our mother tongue has become
the language of bombshell &
shrapnel, but this is how it
always was. You showed us how
America always breathed,
skittering on the lip of
apocalypse, this knowledge
a legacy of your grand-
mothers who died in the camps,
genocide encoded in
your DNA, urging you
to pull spectacle’s golden
filament time & again,
& weave it into sound bite
& fist fight & all that’s wild
& primal & screaming up
against what’s wretched within.
We watched because you showed us
the beasts & ghosts & monsters
clambering in our own chests.
Today, no final thought will
wing itself into the night,
but we will end on one last:
“take care of yourself, & each
other.” Take care of the dark.
Let the inside of your eye-
lids bead the braille of a prayer,
mumbling us into the tough
work of doing enough to
run another episode.

from Poets Respond
April 30, 2023


Dante Di Stefano: “This is an elegy for Jerry Springer who died this week. Like many people my age (44), I disliked his show, but sometimes watched it, despite, or maybe because of, my dislike. For better or worse, Springer was an archetypal American figure, part carnival barker, part confidence man. He harkened back to snake oil mountebanks of the nineteenth century and presaged the age we live in now, where the double helix of reality television and social media compose and decompose and writhe through our national DNA.”

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November 20, 2022

Dante Di Stefano


More of us than ever before walk
the Earth at once. All over the globe more
men and women fall in and out of love,
and open windows frame more rain-facing
faces than ever before in the history of
storms. There are more children learning the sad
math of growing up than ever before,
more dead goldfishes flushed down toilets, more
middle schoolers unlearning the bass
guitar, string by string. There are more old men
eating canned peaches beneath olive trees,
more family trees scrawled by red crayon
in the script and meter of ancient seas.
Strikingly beautiful gray-haired women
bow over raised beds of roses with much
more frequency than in any other
era. There are more mothers and more kisses,
more eyelashes fluttering mascara
butterflies, more desires, more hands both slapped
and held, more kids praying beneath covers
in the middle of the night. There’s more tears
by millions of liters, much more despair,
and surprisingly much more stupid hope
to cling to, to flip-kick off the wall of—
more smudged pencil x-es on love letters,
more lipstick traces on coffee cups, more
hips, thighs, breasts, sighs, biceps, collarbones, aches
in the groin, in the knuckles, in the beat
of breeze against branch, of throat against verb,
more to fear, to love, to praise, to sing with—
to thread into the horizon’s pink hem,
to pull from pine needle and leaf alike
this hymn of the planet spinning into us.

from Poets Respond
November 20, 2022


Dante Di Stefano: “I wrote this after reading an article about the world population surpassing 8 billion.

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November 29, 2021

Dante Di Stefano


If you could take the day by the hand
even now and say Come Father
—W.S. Merwin

The day rises like a rock
in the hand of my father
coming down hard

on my mother’s windshield
as she puts the car
in reverse and speeds

out the driveway
leaving him to wander
raving down the cul-de-sac

the day I learned the language
of spider web cracks
on glass and how to remain

mute in front of social workers
how not to relate 
the interior fluencies

of rage and other undertows
I prayed myself into
each night under the covers

sleeping on the floor
so I wouldn’t be dragged
out of bed before the day

could come and choke me
into the silence mantling me
in school bus and classroom 

there were so many days 
like that one 
days flowering kicks cut knuckles

and elbows fists and curses
knees and teeth and fuck you
bitch and slut and fat cunt

the day grew spikes on its back
and gilled itself with despair
the fog pawing my light

and still I prayed and wondered
why my mother 
wouldn’t leave him why love

punched holes in drywall 
broke dinner plates 
took a baseball bat to bedposts

and tv screens but it was more
complicated than all that
the day they took my father in

drugged him and put him
in the psychiatric wing
where we saw him for an instant

my brother and I
he was shrunken and so frail
we barely knew him

decades later the days
I spent with him have accrued
a murky sheen of sorrow

and disgust I try not to dwell on
for the sake of my daughter
and my wife I say let’s make

the day a brocade a rocking horse
a bird on the highest power line
the good milk of being born anew

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021


Dante Di Stefano: “Rereading this poem is painful for me; the subject matter is hard for me to talk about, but, like all poems, I hope this poem is something more than its subject matter, a necessary, albeit broken, music, a journeywork of enduring and shattering stillness I might dwell in with you.”

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October 11, 2020

Dante Di Stefano


Today isn’t the first day I’ve googled Glück
to find out the right pronunciation,
but I admit I haven’t read her much
and might not open the wild irises

I imagine springing from the umlaut
of her last name. I admit I love those
tiny planets orbiting the valley
of that “u” more than I love the promise

of any poem she may have written.
And now I’m wondering, for the first time,
about all the poems I’ll never read,
the ones I’ve missed, the ones that will remain

unwritten until after I die, ones
withheld from me by a whim of tempo.
Oh Louise, as you say in a poem
of yours I looked up online, “Don’t listen

to me; my heart’s been broken.” The world seems
like it’s ending right now, but, then again,
it always does, and, after all, I feel
like I’m carrying all the enjambments

of the poetry I haven’t read—in
the arrhythmias of the everyday—
and this carrying I rarely notice:
an ocean in a single drop, a song.

from Poets Respond
October 11, 2020


Dante Di Stefano: “I wrote this poem after reading about Louise Glück’s Nobel Prize win. I was thinking, for the first time, about all of the great poetry that for one reason or another I won’t read in my lifetime. It’s interesting to consider how what you haven’t read might vertebrae your life as much as what you have read.”

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April 14, 2020

Dante Di Stefano


Remember, bluets still sprout
beneath your boots
when you take your daughter
for a walk by the river.

Even though an orange snow fence
surrounds the jungle gym
in the park down the street,
there’s the low fork
of a young oak to sit her in.

Remember, even if the hoops
have all been unscrewed
from the backboards,
you can still feign a hook shot for her.

Remember, if the balcony
is closed,
sing through the wall.

Find the riot, unquelled,
in the cherry blossom’s center.

Remember, beneath each scarf,
bandanna, and surgical mask,
there is a throat
that might break into sudden
surprising aria.

Remember, how astonished
your daughter is
at motorcycles and ladybugs,
a pebble she finds
in a neighbor’s driveway,
the stars, the moon, mayflies,
streetlights seen from
the window before bed.

Remember, the image of
your wife’s brown hair
sprawled on the pillow
in the blue hour
of any morning
is worth more
than all your poems.

Remember, even an angry word
from her
is worth more than
the best line of poetry
you have ever read.

Remember, your poems
cannot shelter you,
or make a roof
for the ones you love.

Remember, the earth’s
sole vocation is to astonish.

Remember, the angels of the earth
choir themselves
with mouths full of sod.

Remember, glaciers melt,
oceans rise,
coastlines recede.

Remember, everything can happen
at once and always,
and God, and heaven, and hell.

Remember, the world is
inside you,
the meadow between
one clover and one bee.

Remember, the world is sweet
and spinning, still.

from Poets Respond
April 14, 2020


Dante Di Stefano: “This is really a love note to my wife and to my daughter, and also a poem about what poetry means, and doesn’t mean, to me.” (web)

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December 24, 2019

Dante Di Stefano


Tonight my daughter says goodnight
to every ornament on the tree

the snowman whose carrot-nose has broken
the winged seahorse
the iridescent grasshopper
the plastic snowflake
the golden doodle bounding through leaves
the pink glass octopus
the blue glass whale
the teacup diorama with the missing fawn and palm trees
the crooked angel at the top she calls mama
you get the point

she kisses the one two three burned out lights
near the porcelain baby carriage
emblazoned with the year of her birth

she is 23 months old
the same age as Angie Valeria Martínez Ávalos
the little girl found dead in the Río Grande
with her father Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez
last summer

do you remember them (?)

a picture of their corpses went viral
I had almost forgotten but then I read a poem
by Martín Espada called “Floaters”
and it all came back

I googled Óscar y Valeria
I looked at the picture

you should too
I can’t describe it

my daughter pets my face before I put her in her crib

she says goodnight to

the wooden zebra
the sparkly carousel horse
the santa made of baked clay
the mint chocolate chip ice cream cone made of green and brown felt

there is an impeachment
going on

something is happening
in Hong Kong

in Las Vegas
someone is putting
tiny cowboy hats
on pigeons
and nobody knows why

nobody knows why anymore

I’m not really thinking too hard about
that William Carlos Williams quote
about the news and poems

I’m thinking about
Óscar y Valeria
because of a poem though

and in this moment my daughter pets my face
and says goodnight
to the magi inside the snow globe in the kitchen

and I have all I want of heaven
in the crèche of my heart
in this catalog of tree decorations

the snowy-roofed church
the bear with an elf hat
a starship enterprise
the jingle bell reindeer
a silver mistletoe
the ceramic holly sprig
a rainbow-colored candy cane
the caroler sad but singing

I am sad but singing
and grateful
so very grateful

a poet in earmuffs and scarf
ridiculous as Bob Cratchit
and Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge

belling all goodnight

the way my daughter
bells love when she says my
and reaches out.

from Poets Respond
December 24, 2019


Dante Di Stefano: “This poem is about hope and sadness in this particular holiday season. Please read ‘Floaters’ by Martín Espada here.” (web)

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